Hawaii vaccine exemptions for kindergartners on the rise

Hawaii vaccine exemptions for kindergartners on the rise

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More Hawaii parents are seeking religious exemptions to required kindergarten vaccinations, in a situation that's causing growing concern for Hawaii health officials.

In the 2014-15 school year, some 754 Hawaii kindergartners got religious exemptions to required vaccinations, according to a sample analysis reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's up from 634 the year before, and just 58 in the 2011-12 school year.

"Just like every state, we're seeing a rise in exemptions," said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist and chief of the Department of Health's Disease Outbreak Control Division. "They are growing in number and that is a concern."

The total number of exemptions still represent a small minority of the roughly 20,000 kindergarten public and private students in Hawaii each year.

But the figures also aren't trivial.

Hawaii's non-medical exemption rate – about 3.3 percent in the 2014-15 school year – was the 13th-highest in the nation, according to the CDC.

Idaho has the highest percentage of kindergartners with non-medical exemptions, at 6.2 percent.

Vaccinations for children have become a hot button issue locally and nationally. Some parents fear immunizations could be tied to long-term ill effects in children.

Health professionals, however, say that vaccines pose very little health risk and skipping them could be deadly. The push against vaccinations has resulted in clusters of children getting vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles.

In the legislative session that just wrapped up, parents came out in force to shoot down several vaccination-related measures. In emotional testimony, opponents linked vaccines to everything from autism to the Zika virus.

Park, though, said parents opposed to vaccines represent a "vocal minority."

"If the majority want something another way, they're going to have to take a more active role," Park said.

Hawaii allows parents to seek two types of exemptions to kindergarten vaccines: medical and religious. The number of medical exemptions to vaccines in Hawaii, which require a doctor's signature, has remained low and at about the same number over the last five years.

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